External Affairs minister S Jaishankar recently tweeted pictures of his visit to Manipur’s Ima market, calling it a “great example of nari shakti (women’s power) powering economic growth”.

 

What is Imphal’s Ima Market?

  • Ima Keithel, or Mothers’ Market, is an all-women market, said to be the largest such shopping complex in Asia.
  • It is a unique all women’s market, having 3,000 “Imas” or mothers who run the stalls, it is split [into] two sections on either side of road.
  • Vegetables, fruits, fish and household groceries are sold on one side and exquisite handlooms and household tools on the other. Not far away is a street where beautiful wicker works and basketry are sold.
  • Male vendors and shopkeepers are barred here.
  • In 2018, the state government announced that legal action would be taken under the Manipur Municipalities Act, 2004 if any male vendor was found selling goods at the market.

 

History

  • The Ima Market is centuries-old, and has its origins in Lallup Kaba, an ancient bonded labour system.
  • Under the system, Meitei men had to compulsorily serve some time working in the military and on other civil projects, keeping them away from home.
  • The women, thus, were left to manage on their own, and they developed a market system which is today the Ima Keithel.
  • While the system is centuries-old, it had continued till the time of the British.
  • Policies of the British government had interfered with the functioning of the Ima market too, but were met with stiff resistance from the women.